Who Fears Death

In Book Reviews on August 24, 2014 at 6:00 am
DAW Books 2010

DAW Books 2010

I’ll start off by saying that this book is not for the faint-hearted. It was both beautiful and terrifying and it took me a few days to get over reading it.

Nutshell blurb: Onyesonwu is Ewu – a product of rape as a form of ethnic cleansing. Her name means ‘Who Fears Death’ and she discovers that she has magical abilities. This is the story of her journey to find the person who is trying to murder her.

There are some heavy subjects in this book. Ones that certainly shouldn’t be ignored but are very difficult to read.

Like many women, the threat of rape is something that terrifies me. I can read books where people are dismembered horribly or eaten by zombies, but this is one subject I really have a difficult time reading about. The story begins with Onyesonwu as an adult and since it was her mom that was raped, I kind of thought that we would get away without reading about it in detail. Except that there are these things in books called flashbacks. Yeah.

It would have been cowardly for Ms. Okorafor to not write about it but it still made me squeamish.

The topic of female circumcision plays heavily in the story as well.

Why did I keep reading it? you might ask.

It’s a damn good book, is why. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are interesting. I didn’t connect as well as I’d like with the main character. She was moody, willful and sometimes not very nice but I think that the same could probably be said about me sometimes. She had a difficult time growing up as Ewu so I imagine that would have an effect on someone’s personality.

It was also a different experience for me reading about issues in a novel that I’ve only ever read about in the news. I don’t live in fear of soldiers invading my village and harming me nor is there any threat of FGM for me. Reading about these topics, even though it’s fiction, gave me some frame of reference for them. What we read in the news is very sterile with emotion taken out of it. To feel the terror from a character’s point of view who has had to deal with these issues is quite powerful. It makes it seem more real when I think that women in the world are actually going through these things and that it’s just part of their lives.

The story takes place in a futuristic Africa. The first image that actually popped into my head when I read that it was a dystopian story that takes place in a desert is this:

Tina Turner looking amazing in the desert. (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.)

Let’s take a moment to appreciate Tina Turner looking amazing in the desert. (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.)


It couldn’t be more different, though. There are some references to recording devices and computers but there’s also magic involved. Other than that, it didn’t feel very futuristic. I’m not complaining, though. It was unlike anything I’ve ever read and I was mesmerised.

As I mentioned, Onyesonwu had to get used to having magical powers. One of her abilities was that she could shapeshift. She was able to turn herself into different animals and birds. When she changed shape, she took on the characteristics of the animal that she became. I thought that was a nice touch and it was these types of details that made this story so enjoyable for me.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but other than that I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure about its re-readability factor, but it was an amazing experience.

  1. Great review! This book sounds fantastic. I love when speculative fiction can step outside of the white/medieval trope and do something different.
    I wasn’t going to buy any books today, but I just ordered a copy of this one. It’s all your fault! 😛

  2. It does sound extremely interesting. Thanks for sharing. I’ll check it out.

  3. This book sounds really intriguing – gonna add it to my to-read list! I reckon the only off-putting thing about it, from reading your review, is figuring out how to pronounce the main character’s name. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but every time I look at it, my mind reads it differently 😛

    • I find it’s always a challenge when reading something from a different culture to get the pronunciations correct and keeping people straight when they have similar names. I make myself pay closer attention so that I don’t get confused. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Good luck and I hope you enjoy the book. Let me know what you think once you’ve read it.

      • Practise makes perfect, I suppose! Next on my list will be ‘Burial Rites’ – a colleague recommended it to me a while ago, but I’ve put off reading it because I was a bit intimidated by all the Icelandic names… Anyway, I’ve got ‘Who Fears Death’ on hold at my local library. I’ll hopefully be reading it soon!

  4. […] read a review of Who Fears Death over at Storytime With Buffy and immediately ordered the book from Amazon.  It’s set in a futuristic version of Africa […]

  5. I read this book last year and loved it so much that I bought a hardcover copy for my bookcase (the true test of whether I like a book). Did you know they are making the movie??? Not sure how it will work but I’m excited to see it! One of the best best books I’ve read in the last ten years! And your review is bang on.

  6. […] begin with a thank-you to Buffy for this review of ‘Who Fears Death’ (by Nnedi Okorafor) that so inrigued me and compelled me to seek out a copy. I quite possibly would […]

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